During the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament, winner Ng Wai "blitzchung" Chung was being interviewed by shoutcasters Virtual and Mr. Yee for the Taiwanese stream. At one point during the interview, Chung wore a gas mask and shouted, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" The shoutcasters, visibly uncomfortable, ducked under the table they were sitting at, and the stream quickly cut to a commercial.
Two days later, Activision Blizzard made a public statement, announcing that Chung was in violation the tournament rules and, as such, will be banned from participating in any Hearthstone competitions for 12 months. He will also not receive his $10,000 price money for winning the Grandmasters tournament. The studio also announced it would stop working with the shoutcasters. This act has not gone over well with the many across the world, with people calling for a boycott in response. However, there is a lot to know before we understand what's going on and why Blizzard is doing what it's doing.
The China - Hong Kong Conflict and Blizzard
There is currently a lot of political unrest in Hong Kong, and the reasons for that are pretty complex. Here are the the key facts you need to know right now. China recently tried to pass a measure that would move prisoners from Hong Kong to China to be tried there. China has a reputation for not giving accused persons a fair trial, and many feel that those brought in from Hong Kong would be tried in the same way. Currently, the Chinese government has decided to back down from the law, but protests continue. Many are now protesting in order to feel like they're being heard. However, the Chinese government keeps labeling the protests as riots, and the police have grown increasingly violent.
Blizzard does business in China and many other countries around the world. However, China's market is growing and on the verge of exploding and becoming one of the biggest territories for business. Currently, China accounts for 12% of Blizzard's annual revenue, and while this isn't much when compared to other areas like the United States, that's a big share of the company's profits regardless.
China has a very nationalist policy, where anything that is critical or not in the best interest of China or the governing Communist Party, is banned or censored. This includes taking down TV shows, closing down publications and cutting access to sites on the internet. These measures even extend to private instant messaging. China has a history of cutting ties with businesses should they have content that is anti-China in any way. Businesses that China has cut ties with include YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Why Blizzard is Siding With China
So with that said, what's left is why Blizzard is letting blitzchung go and refusing to pay him his winnings. Unfortunately, it's all about profits. While Blizzard does have the ability to do whatever it wants with a tournament, free speech is the law in the United States. Blizzard is an American company choosing to side with a foreign government, which does not have the same protections regarding free speech. Not a good look.
Blizzard is doing this, however, in order to show solidarity with the Chinese government, and the Communist Party of China. Blizzard doesn't want to lose out on the Chinese market. Doing so would be a huge blow to the company, and Blizzard is publicly traded, meaning that when someone makes a mistake, the shareholders could then vote to remove them from their position. Should Blizzard lose its connections to China because of one e-sports player, that could have major ramifications for those deemed responsible.
This incident is also worrying to a lot of people outside the video games industry, as it shows that China's growing influence in the global economy is essentially strong-arming companies to play by its rules. Many Hollywood productions already take the Chinese audience into consideration while making their movies, often self censoring films to fit within China's strict rules.
It's a double-edged sword, however, as the other side of this has started to take effect. The backlash has seen many pro Hearthstone players leave the game, and a boycott of Blizzard's products has caught on as well. This incident has also caught the attention of politicians. In a rare act of bipartisan agreement, Ron Wyden (D) and Marco Rubio (R) have both spoke out against Blizzard. That's the other side of this issue. Companies will often not say anything about conflicts in the governmental space as to not alienate anyone who might buy their product. When forced to, they will often take the side of least restrictions. Whether Blizzard changes its position going forward remains to be seen.